Transcript of Press Conference: Draft Western Sydney Airport, Airport Plan and EIS

Interview

PFI004/2015

19 October 2015

Topics: Western Sydney Airport, Rail line, Road works, Negotiation with Kingsford Smith Airport, MH 370, Air Freight.

Warren Truss: Well ladies and gentlemen, just over 18 months ago the Australian Government announced that Badgerys Creek had been selected as the site for Sydney's second airport, the first airport for Western Sydney. Today, the Australian Government is releasing the draft airport plan and the draft environmental impact statement. You can see the documents on the table alongside of me. This is a crucial step in the delivery of this project. It marks a very important stage in the process, especially in the engagement with the local community about the details of the airport and how we anticipate it will operate.

An airport for Western Sydney is about planning for future growth and prosperity in one of our nation's fastest growing regions. Western Sydney is already our fourth largest city and in surface area and, of course, it will continue to grow. It is anticipated that one in two Sydneysiders will call Western Sydney their home in the years ahead.

The new Western Sydney Airport will connect Western Sydney with the world and deliver investment for tourism and industry for the region. It will generate the jobs that are necessary to support the lifestyle of the people who will be living there. In 2022, the peak year of construction, there will be over 3000 jobs, and the overwhelming majority of those will be people who live in Western Sydney. By 2031, there will be nearly 9000 jobs created in Western Sydney as a result of the airport. And as the airport grows, so will that number. By 2063, it is expected that there will be 60,000 jobs created by this investment.

The draft airport plan sets out the Australian Government's vision for the proposed Western Sydney Airport, both in its initial stage and then into the future. The plan on my right is the proposal for the first stage of development of the Western Sydney Airport. The specifications for this airport cater for facilities for about 10 million passengers a year. We expect that the Sydney Airport will commence around the size of a Gold Coast airport and relatively quickly grow to the size of an Adelaide Airport. We expect it to reach that stage about five years after operation. It will initially have one 3.7 kilometre runway that will be capable of taking the full range of domestic and international aircraft; that is right up to A380s and B-777s.

As Australia's 21st century airport, it would also include the latest technology, like swing gates and contemporary navigation aids along with land reserve for business parks and environmental conservation. Terminal facilities on the site could be expected to expand to meet growing demand. By around 2050, a second parallel runway would likely be built and the airport could be capable of handling about 82 million passengers, and that demand is expected to be appear and require the construction of the second runway in the early 2060s. The map on my left demonstrates the long term vision, the long term plan for Western Sydney Airport with the capacity for about 80 million passengers, but that is with the second stage construction in the 2060s.

Now, the release of the airport plan and the draft EIS presents an important opportunity for the community to be informed about the airport project and its likely impact on their neighbourhood. Both documents will go on public exhibition today until Friday, 18 December 2015. The public will have 60 calendar days in which to respond to the issues that might arise for them associated with this environmental impact assessment and the airport plan. That equates to 45 business days; that is more than double what the minimum period that the Act allows for, for consideration of impact statements of this nature.

There will be a comprehensive community engagement process that will be taking place throughout the region; around 12 information sessions are planned at local Western Sydney locations and there will be also copies of these documents available in public libraries and other places. You will also be able to obviously access the website, which has all of the details of the EIS and it is also available in electronic form for people who would like to have it.

So this Western Sydney Airport is one of the most significant infrastructure projects that Australia has seen in decades, and it will undoubtedly deliver important economic benefits in the forms of jobs and tourism and investment. There have been two previous environmental impact assessments of the Badgerys Creek sites—one in 1985 and the other in 1990. Both found that there were no insurmountable challenges in developing an airport at Badgerys Creek.

The findings of this environmental assessment are in accord with the findings of those earlier statements. It is a very robust assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts. It deals with all of the key issues that have been raised in discussions and which were identified also in the charter given for this EIS by the Environment Minister. He has approved this document as meeting the guidelines that he had assessed as being required for this particular project, and we are confident that it deals with the issues that will be of interest to the community.

It is based on more than 700 field investigations and 19 technical studies. It includes indicative flight paths developed by Air Services Australia, noise impact modelling and assessments of expected air and water quality changes as well as potential health risks. It is an in depth assessment and deals with the issues and [indistinct] plans outlined in the airport proposal. Importantly, the assessment has found there will be no significant impact on the greater Blue Mountains area, including its World Heritage values. Any potential health impacts would be low and well within internationally accepted standards.

Can I just comment briefly on the question of noise. Whilst every airport will have some noise, we are satisfied that the noise impacts in Western Sydney will not be such that they will provide discomfort to the people of the region. Indeed, if the same noise standards were applied to the Western Sydney project as led to the insulation in Sydney and Adelaide, there would be no houses anywhere in the Western Sydney area that would require insulation. There is no house in the Western Sydney Airport area that will be exposed to noise equivalent to the houses in Sydney and Adelaide that have been insulated in previous programs.

In Penrith, the CBD is about 13 kilometres away from the airport site. Indicative flight paths would indicate that when they reach the Penrith CBD, aircraft are likely to be above 5000 feet, and this would mean a noise level below 70 decibels. That's equivalent to the noise that you would hear from a passenger car travelling on a suburban road.

If you look at the areas around Luddenham, they are much closer to the airport but it was not on either end of the runway. In that area, the expectation is that the noise will come largely from taxiing aircraft and will be even lower than the levels that we have spoken about in relation to Penrith. The other thing I should mention about Penrith before I leave is that it's a quite significant urban area.

The noise impacts will be limited also because the majority of the aircraft will take off and land over the Western Sydney employment area, meaning they will be coming off the other end of the runway. So we do anticipate that the noise levels around the Western Sydney area will be manageable. They will generally be about conversational level in volume, and rarely would people be required to raise their voices because of the fact that there are aircraft movements in the area.

Ladies and gentlemen, clearly there will be keen interest in this plan and in the environmental impact assessments. We are anxious to ensure that the people of Western Sydney are fully engaged in this process and have every opportunity to raise issues of concern. There will be, as I mentioned, public gatherings for people to ask questions, displays, access to websites that provide all of the details that are in these volumes for their scrutiny, and we look forward to constructive engagement with the people of Western Sydney in this process.

After the 60 days all objections will have to be assessed and then ultimately the Environment Minister will make a decision about what conditions should be imposed upon the airport, or this stage of its development. I'd emphasise that this environmental impact assessment deals with the initial proposal, the first stage development.

By the time the second stage development is proposed obviously 30, 40, 50 years away from now, there'll have to be another environmental impact assessment to deal with that substantial additionally investment. If there are proposed changes to flight paths at any time under existing airport legislation that requires new environmental impact assessments and those sort of standards will also apply in this instance.

So we ask people to look at the environmental impact assessment, to assess what its impacts might be on them and their communities, but to recognise also that this is a very substantial project for the people of Western Sydney. We've already commenced work on the $3.5 billion roads package which will provide access to the airport and improve transport connections around the Western Sydney area, and we are ready to proceed with the project once this environmental assessment process is completed.

Paul, would you like to add anything, then we can have some questions.

Paul Fletcher: Look, thanks Warren. I'd just pick up one quick comment on the Western Sydney roads package that the Deputy Prime Minister spoke about. So a $3.6 billion commitment with the Commonwealth working with the State Government to upgrade the Bringelly Road, The Northern Road, and a range of other roads and in due course a motorway standard connection from the M7, bringing you through to the location of the airport in time for its opening in 2025. All part of the integrated work leading towards the Western Sydney Airport, but of course today's specifically about the release of the EIS and the draft airport plan, an important milestone.

Michael McCormack: As the Deputy, Prime Minister said, there has been environmental impact statements done in 1985, another comprehensive one in 1999. With this draft EIS there have been 700 field site visits, there have been 19 further technical studies, so everything that can be done has been done. This is an important piece of infrastructure—not just for Western Sydney, but indeed for Australia. And certainly we are an infrastructure government, we've proven that over the past two years, and we're certainly getting on with the job of building jobs, productivity, innovation, and this ticks all those boxes.

Question: Mr Truss, will there be any federal funding for a rail link to the airport?

Warren Truss: Well we're dealing today with the environmental impact assessment and the airport plan. The airport plan that's on display includes the corridor for a rail link to the airport, and the environmental impact assessment deals with that corridor. It also deals with the oversight of the external transport connections to the Western Sydney Airport, which are based exclusively on road. And the environmental impact assessment says that the $3.6 billion road package that the Federal Government has committed to the area is capable of providing the access that will be needed for the airport during the lifetime of this stage of the plan.

Unquestionably, as the airport grows to a much larger scale and reaches a stage when there's 80 million passengers, it's clearly going to need railway- a rail access. Bear in mind that our second and fourth-largest airports in Australia at the present time still do not have rail access. An airport of five million passengers clearly would not provide sufficient revenue to make a rail connection viable. At some stage between an airport of five million passengers and an airport of 80 million passengers there will be a need to construct a rail link.

When that happens that will require its own environmental impact assessment, which fundamentally will be undertaken by the New South Wales Government because most of the railway line would obviously be external to this site. But this EIS and this airport plan does deal with the route that the railway lines would take in passing through the Western Sydney Airport site.

Question: But wouldn't it be the case Mr Truss, I mean you made the case that this would have a huge economic impact and create a lot of business around the airport, does that change the dynamics and economics of putting a rail link in and actually put the case that it should be built earlier than it otherwise may [indistinct] …

Warren Truss: Well I think you've made a very important point. The case for a railway line to Western Sydney is built essentially around the new industry and the growth in population that's going to occur in that area. The airport is incidental to that, and the airport will add something to the business, but will not of itself create sufficient volume of passengers to justify the financial cost.

However, as the residential areas grow in Western Sydney, as business grows in Western Sydney, there will be a mounting case to provide urban public transport via rail to that community, and at that time will need to be constantly assessed because we want to be ahead of the requirements rather than fighting them. But on the advice of this airport plan it does not trigger that volume of passengers that would make the passenger rail network viable at the present time. But I have no doubt that we need [indistinct] as a good strategy for us to identify the location, and it's our plan also to actually put the tunnel and the cavity for the station in place as a part of this project so that there will be no interference to the day to day operations of the airport when the line actually goes through.

Question: You talked about the road project going ahead first, which seems sensible. Can you just clarify will most of that roadwork be more or less complete before construction begins on the airport? What sort of disruptions are there going to be?

Warren Truss: That's particularly in Paul's field…

Paul Fletcher: Well there's construction on a range of those projects already underway, and there will be other elements of it that are staged, but certainly a significant proportion of it will be completed before construction commences.

Question: Mr Truss how confident are you that construction on the airport will begin by end of next year?

Warren Truss: Well that's our goal, we all appreciate that there are a number of pathways that all have to converge at the right time for us to be able to actually start construction. Obviously there's potential for court actions, or delaying the environmental impact assessment, and that just has to be completed and resolved before construction can begin, so there's potential for delays through this process. We are still negotiating with Kingsford Smith Airport about their first right of refusal could take a third of the time. And so there are a number of issues that could intervene, but we are doing everything within our power to deliver the airport and start construction next calendar year. There is nothing around us at the present time which would lead us to believe that we are not going to meet that guideline, and we will be working hard to have bulldozers on the site by the end of next year.

Many of you will be aware that this will… one of the biggest parts of this project, we think it's about half of the total cost of the airport, is actually the earth moving contract to get the site flat, the civil engineering that will be necessary to build the actual airport and that's potentially a $2 billion contract, and that, therefore means, that there will be bulldozers on the site for quite some time. The issues associated with construction such as dust and the like are dealt with also in many layers, and a conclusion has to be reached that those issues can be managed without inconveniencing those who live nearby. So there's a lot of work to be done, and that earthworks project needs to be completed before we can start the other civil works which are required, and therefore that's priority just to get onto the site.

Question: And what's the timetable for letting of contracts, or the tenders for those contracts for the site itself?

Warren Truss: For the earthworks contract? Well we'll need to complete our arrangements with Kingsford Smith Airport as to who was actually going to take responsibility for that element of the project. But we are looking at some months obviously to prepare tenders and to actually get a contractor as far as that's concerned, and so that's going to require a good bite out of next year.

Question: What's the actual position of the KSA been up until now, are they being generally cooperative or keen to be involved in this? How are they perceiving…?

Warren Truss: Yes, I think it would be fair to say they have been cooperative. The talks have been very constructive. They realise that this is an essential part of infrastructure and servicing the growing aviation sector in Sydney in the years ahead.

They also recognise the implications on their current site and their very limited capabilities to undertake any further expansion there, or do we approve the capacity of an airport to meet the future demands of Sydney. So they know there's got to be another airport in the Sydney basin. They know that Western Sydney is a logical place for this airport to be located because there's a comparatively large site there. Not large compared with Brisbane or Melbourne but it is large with their existing site and they know that that's where the population growth assisting- securing the future. So this is the logical place for the airport to be and they are very keen to be a part of that development. [Indistinct] to reach satisfactory conditional terms and some of those negotiations will in no doubt be difficult in the months ahead.

Question: Minister, could I ask you a MH370 question? There's been new speculation that lithium batteries may have caused the fire that brought down the plane. How likely- do you think that this is a possibility and are you confident that the way that lithium batteries are carried now as cargo isn't safe?

Warren Truss: Well some airlines are taking different roads to the volume of lithium batteries that they're prepared to have on board than others and I think that's an issue that needs to be examined at an international level. From our own perspective our airlines are taking very conservative view about those issues.

However, as to whether or not that's a likely cause of the MH370 accident, I think that that is a matter for the Malaysian authorities. It's their role to undertake that level of investigation. Our role is because the aircraft was thought to be in our search and rescue zone, our role is to try and find the wreckage of the aircraft. Until we're able to do that that might provide some answers as to how the aircraft entered the sea. But when you consider that the aircraft clearly flew on autopilot way off course for a long time, it seemed to me that you would need more explanations than just lithium batteries to explain away the notation that presumed it had gone into the water. So look, those are all things that need to be examined. There is no completely satisfactory information as to what's happened with MH370. All the theories have some flaws and I think we've just got to try and find the wreckage and that may help us with the investigation, but certainly will help to deliver closure and their understanding of what's happened to the families and that's one of our highest priorities that is exercised. But every possible explanation for the loss of the aircraft it will need to be considered and that's a matter for the Malaysian investigators.

Question: Minister, just in terms of the more commercial and [indistinct] aspect [indistinct], what component of freight be in terms of the economic model for it?

Warren Truss: Well clearly in this day and age the movement of passengers and freight is very much interlinked. Most aircraft leaving Australia have the hull full of freight these days and the capacity to carry freight has been a significant factor in improving the economics of air services into a country like Australia and I think that's going to continue to grow as a producer of high quality food and also high quality manufacturing goods, they are generally smaller in volume and they will be got to the market more quickly by aircraft. And once more there is the top end of the market, the premium end of the market and they can afford the extra cost of travelling by air.

If it is perishable fruit and vegetables, well certainly it's got to go to market just as quickly as it possibly can. Flowers or live animals, they need to get to the market as quickly as they possibly can. So freight is an important part of the operations of all of our capital city airports at the present time.

Now as the industrial base in Western Sydney goes, dedicated freighters are also more likely to want to do- base themselves at Western Sydney and I think that that will be an important part of the growing the job base that Western Sydney airport will foster but it will also be an important part of encouraging factories and other businesses located in the Western Sydney area. But I suspect that Western Sydney will have a growing freight task and Sydney KSA is our biggest airport freight airport now and so it's not as though that's new and I think Western Sydney will probably be even stronger than KSA.

Okay, thank you very much.